A Correction Tool That Touches the Heart
When people need to change their ways, God uses the term “repentance” to describe the process. However, using words like repentance and sin too often in correction with kids may create an unbalanced view of God and his positive plan for their lives. Yet, whether you use the term repentance or not, it’s good to understand what God has to say about it.
The word “repent” simply means to change one’s mind and in its various forms is used 75 times in the Bible. From these verses we learn that there are six different parts to repentance that all have practical implications for parenting.
An Important First Step
The first step in repentance is to settle down, stop fighting, and be willing to work on the problem. Jeremiah 8:6 says that an unrepentant person is like a horse charging into battle. You can visualize the nostrils flared and the steam coming out of the horse’s mouth. That picture could easily resemble some children when they’re corrected. The solution is that they need to settle down.
Unfortunately, some parents continue on with the correction while the child is still upset. It would be better to require that the child go into the other room or the hall and settle down before continuing the correction process. We call this a Break. Parents who take advantage of this first step in repentance slow down the process and decrease the intensity, and thus see more significant change in their kids.
The other steps in repentance include admitting that you’ve done something wrong, otherwise known as confession (1 Kings 8:47), acknowledging that there’s a better way (Matthew 3:8-10), and committing to doing the right thing (Jeremiah 34:14). Two other steps of repentance involve the emotions. They’re feeling sorrow for doing the wrong thing (Jeremiah 31:19), and having a desire to do what’s right (Romans 7:14-15). These last two steps involve one’s desires and are the ultimate goal in the change process. However, just because you don’t see the remorse or a desire to do what’s right that shouldn’t stop you from pursuing the goal. Some children need correction over a long period of time in order to make the changes necessary to their emotions.
Ending Discipline Times with a Positive Conclusion
In order to work through the elements of repentance when correcting a child, it’s often helpful to have a conversation at the end of the discipline time. We call this debriefing a Positive Conclusion and it reviews the offense, discusses why it was wrong, and helps the child develop a plan for next time. After all, repentance involves confession. Parents who simply give a consequence and hope that kids are making the connection to their poor thinking, are often disappointed by the slow process of change. In a debriefing after an offense it’s helpful for children to admit their part of the problem. Articulating what went wrong is an important step toward change. Sometimes children don’t believe they’ve done anything wrong. Or they believe their response is justified because the other person provoked them. Of course, when children believe that they’ve been treated unfairly, they’re still responsible for their reaction. A sarcastic answer or a returned punch can’t be excused because the other person instigated.
One dad reported success with his son this way, “I used to have a justice mentality. You did this so you deserve that. I even had a list of consequences on the refrigerator for various offenses. I’d give the consequences but I rarely saw significant change. It wasn’t until I started implementing these steps of repentance that we really began to see change in our son.”
Other Steps May Be Necessary
After correction, other steps like restitution, reconciliation, or an apology are often helpful for restoring relationship. To avoid having children say I’m sorry while not feeling it in their heart, we encourage children to say, “I was wrong for… Will you forgive me?” This statement doesn’t require an emotion but is an act of the will. A child should take responsibility for an offense whether it is provoked or not. Of course if the child truly feels sorrow for the offense then “I’m sorry” can be a helpful way to begin reconciliation.
Be careful about disciplining only one child when two kids are fighting. Both are usually at fault in some way. Trying to figure out who started it rarely leads to peace. Victims are often instigators. Teach children how to respond to offenses, and when they make a mistake, teach them how to admit it and ask for forgiveness.
In the Bible, both God the Father and Jesus used a Positive Conclusion in their discipline. Adam and Eve sinned and although God imposed the consequence of leaving the garden, he took time with them and made clothes out of animal skins and gave them a hope for the future. After the resurrection Jesus met with Peter and asked him three times, “Do you love me?” Peter needed a Positive Conclusion after his three-episode denial of Christ. After Peter responded yes, Jesus affirmed Peter’s ongoing future with words such as “Feed my sheep” and “Tend my lambs.” When David sinned with Bathsheba the consequence was that the baby died. Shortly thereafter Bathsheba got pregnant again and the same prophet came to David and said of the new baby, “Name him Jedidiah,” which means “loved of the Lord.”
Our kids need to hear the same message after an offense that God gave to Adam and Eve and David and that Jesus gave to Peter. The message is clear. “We’ve dealt with it. Let’s move forward. We have work to do.” That positive focus to discipline helps children experience freedom in their consciences, a much needed gift after an offense.
Good Practice Starts with Good Theology
A theology of repentance is a powerful way of looking at correction of children, resulting in deeper, more significant change. Kids need to adjust more than their behavior. They also need to change their hearts. If you embrace these few suggestions kids are forced through a process. You can’t force a change of heart, but you can teach kids a way to think about what they’ve done wrong and take them through predictable steps so they’ll know what healthy change looks like.
God is the expert at changing the heart and we must look to him for guidance in this delicate area. Praying regularly for soft hearts on the part of children can go a long way to help them be responsive to correction.
This concept is taught in the book, Good and Angry: Exchanging Frustration for Character in You and Your Kids. The Positive Conclusion is one of eight tools outlined in this book. It’s important to first go to God’s Word and see how God and others brought about change. Then we can develop practical tools and techniques. When the techniques reflect Godly wisdom they are much more effective.